RHI keeps farmers upright, working


Carol Wagner Leader Correspondent

Contributed photo Registered nurse Dawn Dingeldein takes the blood pressure of eastern Shawano County farmer Mark Karcz, who is a hoof trimmer, does drain tiling on farm fields, and has a dairy farm with his sons.

Rural Health Initiative will soon celebrate 15 years of bringing health care to people in the agriculture industry. RHI is a preventative health service that goes right to the farmers.

“They value our program,” said Rhonda Strebel, executive director. “We’re the only service that comes to the farm.”

Most services that go directly to the farms are for the animals. Strebel said farmrs usually went to the emergency room first 15 years ago.

“We said, how can we get to our farmers sooner?” she said.

Farm women were the first to say the farmers wouldn’t go to the clinic, it would have to come to them. So Dr. John Mielke, a cardiologist whose family practiced medicine in Shawano County, was instrumental in getting the program started and taking it to the farm.

Among the many things the farmers can be tested for are diabetes and heart disease. Often they can be prevented or at least managed before they get out of hand.

RHI goes to all farms, big or small. It isn’t just for dairy; anyone connected to the agriculture industry can be seen, such as milkmen and hoof trimmers.

Strebel said agriculture brings $88 billion to Wisconsin. Farming is what feeds the community, and many other jobs are related to farming.

“We’re trying to keep that industry strong,” Strebel said.

The complimentary services provided would otherwise run $200 to $300. Strebel said they may have to start charging a minimal fee of $10 to $20 to keep the program sustainable.

Farmers aren’t likely to visit a doctor until it is necessary, according to Strebel. RHI finds that 52 percent of the people they serve will find a health concern. Visits take approximately 20 minutes per person, and the nurse can recommend health, social, and financial resources.

RHI is 100 percent community supported. ThedaCare and Ascension are major sponsors, along with United Cooperative and the Bleser Family Foundation.

A large part of Strebel’s time is spent fundraising.

RHI serves Shawano, Outagamie and Waupace counties. Registered nurse Dawn Dingeldein takes care of Shawano County while Allissa Mueller goes to Outagamie and Waupaca County. They bring portable equipment and get immediate results. Strebel emphasized that they are not a replacement for a doctor.

“Shawano should be very proud for being so innovative and creating a program such as this and that it has lasted for 15 years,” she said.

For more information, call 715-524-1488, email rhonda@rhiwi.org or go to www.wiruralhealth.org.